I love kitchen tools and techniques, especially those that save time or enhance flavors. Since Christmas, I have been honing my craft through select recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, noting her affinity for the mortar and pestle. She wasn’t opposed to modern devices, but she did like cooking as hands-on as possible. With my birthday not far off, I did everything just shy of smoke signals to convey my desire for this ancient tool; and on Monday, this beautiful marble version sat on my countertop ready for duty.
As I began pulling herbs and spices from my cupboard to marinate some chicken for grilling, I also grabbed the mortar and pestle. Tellicherry peppercorns and Italian herbs seemed like a great way to begin this new adventure, so I was on my way. As I began to crush the herbs, the fragrance from the dried oregano and basil leaves surprised me, as though something dormant was released. The peppercorns took a little more pressure to grind, but the bright, peppery scent was well worth it. The chicken marinated in a host of juice and spices, did its time on the grill, and with the first sampling, the distinct flavors were noticeable. I was convinced my new tool would have a permanent place in my kitchen.
While relaxing that evening, my mind wandered to the savory aroma of the herbs and peppercorns, thinking about all the times I had used these items without their full potency. Evidently, the pressure of grinding and refining brought out the hidden potential of these common ingredients. Of course, each one was useful in its present state, sure to produce an adequate result, but when the outer covering was bruised and crushed, something rather exquisite emerged.
A picture began forming in my mind’s eye of this benefit of pressure and its parallels to life—my own life. At times, our circumstances can feel as though the pressure is so intense there will be a bruise or mark left on us. If a difficult season lasts too long we might feel discouraged or even crushed under its weight. It didn’t take much for me to recognize the challenges in life are the mortar and pestle that refine our character. Scripture even uses this age-old apparatus as a character refining metaphor in Proverbs 27:22 − Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding him like grain with a pestle, you will not remove his folly from him (NIV).
This would infer that our response to the difficulty we face is most crucial. In my experience, the only way to emerge from a mortar and pestle type event without the residue of foolishness is to allow God to do the refining. He knows the right amount of pressure that will liberate the fragrance of Christ in each of us (2 Cor 2:14-15). I believe it is our willingness to yield to His plans and purposes in the midst of adversity which gives opportunity for something rather exquisite to emerge.